Excepting a brief prelude in an unidentified African country, Besieged is set entirely within a large, rambling house, and features a cast of two. Bernardo Bertolucci’s pet themes of passion and class are stripped to the core as a refugee (Thandie Newton) working her way through medical school and her employer (David Thewlis), a reclusive composer, become entangled in a web of attraction and denial. The changing textures of their emotions are reflected in the slow convergence of their musical tastes, and his dedication to her is measured by the gradual removal of the mansion’s furniture.
"In Besieged there is this struggle between African music and Western classic music, which is of course the confrontation of two different cultures, but it is also the way of communicating or the way of not being able to communicate. Indeed, Besieged is a metaphor for the shock between cultures - and it's precisely their differences from the culture of Rome which unite Kinsky and Shandurai. I've always been a partisan of all forms of cultural 'contamination' whether on the stylistic level, as an artist, or on the cultural level, as a man. So we see that while he is composing his concerto that he's being influenced by her and it's so underwritten, and he begins playing for her when she's Hoovering. And the more he plays the more he becomes very sensual. She is the muse and he's inspired by her, and because he wouldn't dare put his hand on her, his sexual desire goes into the music and he starts giving shape and form to the music and it's the moment where he seduces her for real." —Bernardo Bertolucci